Friday, November 24, 2017
By Yussuf Simmonds (Managing Editor)
Published November 27, 2008

Rosewood was a predominantly Black town in Florida that experienced one of the most vicious massacres of Black people in America early in the 20th century. That the massacre was not widely reported was partly because of the racial atmosphere at that time and a similar massacre that had taken place a year earlier in Greenwood District known as "the Black Wall Street," in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was called "the Tulsa Holocaust." Such incidents seemed so commonplace that a continuous pattern of murdering Blacks was prevalent throughout the country, making "secret" organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the Night Riders and later on the White Citizens' Council so powerful, they did not really have to be secret.

It appeared that race relations between Blacks and Whites were strained: Blacks, recently removed from slavery and the Reconstruction Era, were trying to exert their independence from Whites, who seemed bent on placing Blacks in a continuous state of subservience. Wherever Blacks and Whites live in close proximity, true equality never prevailed. The doctrine of White supremacy–a belief in the inherent superiority of the White race over all other non-White races–is what triggered most racial incidents like the Rosewood massacre and what historically has perpetuated some of the most vicious crimes of man's inhumanity to man ever recorded in the annuals of history. Whites never seem to want to be truly equal with others; they always seem to want to be "more equal."

At the end of the 19th century, Blacks and Whites populated Rosewood, and as long as each race primarily remained with their own people–except for business and/or "necessary circumstances"–peace prevailed. The town's economy revolved around a sawmill, farming and cotton that were situated in nearby Sumner. At the dawn of the 20th century, the economy dried up and that triggered an exodus of Whites. As a result, Rosewood became a predominantly Black town and a target for Whites.

As a Black enclave, the town consisted of three churches, a school, a Masonic Hall, two industrial mills, a baseball team and two general stores. Most of the houses were planked two-story homes and several of them were vacant. Rosewood experienced a modest amount of success since the Blacks did not have the need for luxurious life styles; they lived within their means and some barely eked out a sustainable livelihood.

According to the Rosewood Report, many Whites in and around Rosewood were uncomfortable seeing Blacks thrive independent of working for Whites and that "White attitude" created a hostile environment wherein Blacks were seen as economic competitors even though their target market was always exclusively other Blacks. Whites did not patronize Black businesses or services and the only relationship Whites wanted was one where Blacks were subservient at every level–socially, in education and in housing–in all areas of human interaction. 

There were a myriad of violent incidents that led up to the Rosewood Massacre. During the summer of 1919, there were outbreaks of racial violence in several northern cities due in part to competition for jobs and combined with the racial atmosphere of the time. It trickled down to the South and many of the southern states including Florida were systematically and effectively disenfranchising Blacks, creating barriers to voter registration and voting. Blacks were the numerical majority in many districts in the South and by preventing them from voting allowed Whites to remain in power in perpetuity.

This also meant Blacks could not participate in the court system as jurors–only as defendants–and they had no elected representatives in local or state government or in law enforcement. Florida had also joined many states passing jim crow laws that imposed strict racial segregation in public facilities and transportation. In addition, the Ku Klux Klan was strong in the Florida area openly holding initiation ceremonies and inciting violence against Blacks with impunity. Rosewood became a model for the oppression of Blacks in America.

A partial chronology of the events of violence against Blacks leading up to and including the Rosewood Massacre began in 1920:

? Whites removed four Black men from a local jail and lynched them for being accused of raping a White woman;

? Five Blacks were killed in a dispute over voting rights;

? A White mob destroyed 25 homes, two churches and a Black Masonic Lodge;

? A Black man was lynched for allegedly attacking a White woman;

? A White schoolteacher was murdered near Rosewood and when it was learned that Blacks were in the vicinity, they were automatically considered the guilty ones–three Blacks were murdered. (Whites even exacted their version of "retributive equality"–three Blacks equaled one White).

These incidents raised fears on the general public and demonstrated the swiftness of "White justice" when Blacks were the alleged perpetrators. There were no judges, juries or trials. And whenever there were, the results were always the same since Blacks had no "juries of their peers and the judges were all White. Also, the events in Rosewood mirrored similar racial incidents in other cities around the country.

The actual events in Rosewood were similar in nature to the above began on New Year's Eve 1922:

? The Ku Klux Klan held a parade and a rally with a burning cross and a banner about protecting [White] womanhood. (This was consistent with their actions against Blacks since many of the violence against Blacks were often triggered by alleged assaults and/or insults by Black men against White women);

? A White woman claimed that an unidentified Black man had attacked, beat and raped her;

? A mob of White men apprehended a Black man killed him;

? White vigilantes descended on a house, killed a Black woman and wounded several others;

? Most of the remaining town's Black residents fled into the Florida swamp to escape being killed;

? Approximately 200 to 300 Whites from surrounding communities converged on the town to assist the vigilantes in burning houses and killing Blacks;

? The churches, the vacant houses and most of the businesses and homes were burned;

? On the sixth day of violence, some of the Blacks escaped by train to Gainesville. As they left, Whites moved in and burned the remaining structures.

The tragic events of that period in American history were captured in a movie titled "Rosewood." A book and a documented history of the massacre were chronicled and submitted to the Florida Board of Regents in 1993. The Florida legislature passed a bill to compensate the survivors and their descendants, and the site of the former town has been designated a Florida Heritage Landmark. However, no efforts have been reportedly made to locate any of the living perpetrators of these tragic acts. And just as there were "named" survivors of the tragedy, there were "living" perpetrators.

Some of the named survivors who contributed to the Rosewood History were:




Governor Lawton Chiles, in signing a reparations bill for the survivors, referred the incident as "blind act of bigotry." However, bigotry is never blind; it is usually done with both eyes open.

Ironically, as the country has recently shown the world that Rosewood is past history and that substantial progress has been made, there has been a surge in Ku Klux Klan activities since the election of President-elect Barack Obama. Recent law enforcement reports claim that the rise in racist and White supremacist activities is not an accident. Progress on one hand appears to be offset by a return to the nation's dark past directed at the individual who will inherit the highest office in the land.

It would be great if some of the tremendous efforts and resources that are expended to eradicate the Taliban and Al Qaeda–because their mission is to kill Americans–could also be directed at the eradication of the Ku Klux Klan. After all, the Klan's mission is also to kill Americans–Black Americans.


Categories: Legends

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